1897 Cup Final Aston Villa v Everton Score 3 – 2

1897 Cup Final Aston Villa v Everton Score 3 – 2

10th April at Crystal Palace, London. Attendance: 65,891.

PREAMBLE

The F A cup celebrated twenty-five years of competition in 1897 and the style of play from 1897 back to 1872 was as far removed as 1897 is to today. The players were now professionals and more and more of the clubs were now fully fledged businesses with the bank balance just as important as the trophy cabinet. Support for the major clubs was now huge and the venues where the cup was fought for were very impressive compared to the stadiums used back in 1872. One other major factor had been the introduction of the league which had now set up sixteen of the Nation’s elite clubs as giants, there to be slain by the minnows. For the second consecutive season though, not one of these giants fell to lesser opposition in the first round. Many of the big guns ran up impressive performances in their bid to list the cup to emphasise their superiority. The biggest victory came from Bury as they defeated non-league Stockton 12-1, although Stockton had held them to a 0-0 draw to force a replay. Bury’s second round opponents were their first division rivals Everton who had put paid to Burton Wanderers 5-2 in round one. It was Everton who progressed 3-0 to earn a home quarter-final with Blackburn Rovers.

Derby County were pushing hard to try and win their first league title when Steve Bloomer’s hat-trick saw off hapless Barnsley St Peters 8-1 in round one and they too met first division opposition in round two against Bolton where Bloomer carried on where he left off with another hat-trick in a 4-1 win. Their quarter-final opponents would be Newton Heath (later to be Manchester United), the only club outside the top flight to reach the last eight having come through against non league opposition in both rounds, the first being a comfortable 5-1 win over Kettering.

Heath’s local rivals Manchester City could only watch on as they had been hammered 6-0 by Preston in round one. Preston met another free scoring top flight opponent in round two when Stoke, 5-2 victors over Glossop North End, visited Deepdale where Preston booked a home quarter-final 2-1. Thier opponents would be cup favourites and defending league champions Aston Villa who also started their cup run impressively with a 5-0 win over Newcastle before ending Notts County’s cup dream 2-1 at Villa Park. Liverpool and Nottingham Forest had been quietly progressing to complete the line up.

Only two of the four ties were settled at the first attempt as Andrew Hartley scored both goals in Everton’s 2-0 victory over Blackburn at Goodision while Newton Heath were unable to contain Steve Bloomer at Derby and as expected, bowed out 2-0. Affairs as Deepdale and Anfield were much tighter though as Preston held Villa 1-1 while Liverpool also looked to have blown their chance of a first semi-final 1-1 with Nottingham Forest. Liverpool won the replay through a goal from Allan to set Merseyside buzzing at the prospect of an all Merseyside final as they avoided Everton in the semi-final draw. Their opponents would be Aston Villa but not until they got a real scare at Villa park when Preston did all but score in a goalless replay, Villa won the third meeting 3-2.

The semi-finals were on March 20th and most expected the two title rivals Aston Villa and Derby County to see off the two Merseyside clubs and set up a top two final but as ever it wasn’t to be. On the opposite extreme, Merseyside was out to spoil both parties and set up a reds vs blues final. The reds being the ruby of Everton and the blue & white halves of Liverpool. At Bramall Lane in Sheffield, Liverpool were overwhelmed by the quality of Aston Villa. John Cowan scored twice before Charlie Athersmith put the matter beyond any doubt in a comfortable 3-0 win for the champions. There was a much tighter and all round excellent semi-final at Victoria ground in Stoke as Everton and Derby kept their fans on a knife edge. As expected, Derby, led by Steve Bloomer, were the better side but while they tormented Everton’s shaky defence and scored twice through the Goodall brothers, they could not contain what was regarded as the most exciting forward line in the Country. Everton came through 3-2 with goals from Chadwick, Hartley and Milward.

Villa’s route to the Final, versus:
30-01-1897 Home       Newcastle  5-1
13-02-1897 Home       Notts Co   2-1
27-02-1897 Away       Preston    1-1
Replays:   03-03-1897 0-0
10-03-1897 3-2
20-03-1897 Semi-final Liverpool  3-0

THE 1897 FINAL

If the first two matches at the Crystal Palace had produced sensational openings, the third was perhaps the greatest Final ever played. Villa that year had taken the League championship by eleven points, and, by also winning the Final 3-2 against Everton, equalled Preston’s ‘double’ feat of 1889.

65,000 travelled from Birmingham and Liverpool to the Crystal Palace on April 10th for the cup final which was being billed as potentially the best yet. Aston Villa were the best club in the Country and went into the game in the unusual position of possibly winning both major domestic trophies on the same day. Title rivals Derby had a league trip to Bury on the same day and if they failed to take the points, Villa would retain their league title. Opposing Villa were an Everton side who were something of an enigma. The Merseysiders were the biggest club in the land by some distance in matters off the field and their position gave them a head start in attracting the best players but they consistently failed to turn their status into trophies. They were by no means considered underdogs here either as they had inflicted one of just four defeats suffered by Villa all season. It was a bit like a cup final between Steve Davis and Alex Higgins. The former being the perfect example of how to play and win while the latter had talent and ability to burn but so often failed to use it to its best.

Both teams kept their cup final plans top secret and both booked into secret hotels. It was no surprise then that both sets of players fell into hoots of laughter when the Everton players came down for their hotel breakfast to be met by their Villa opponents already seated and waiting to be served. For the first time in cup history the two teams mingled at breakfast and in the hotel gardens as they waited to go to the Palace, in the end opting to travel together. It was a situation which was not repeated however and when you consider the quality that this final produced it is worth considering that their meeting took the edge off the occasion and enabled them to play a more open and entertaining game.

Both sides had plenty of previous experience in their ranks with four previous finalists each. Villa had John Reynolds, James Cowan, Charlie Athersmith and John Devey, the captain, who had all played in both the 1892 & 1895 finals. Reynolds though was aiming for a third winners medal as he had been part of the West Bromwich Albion side that had beaten Villa in 1892. Everton had Richard Boyle, Johnny Holt, Edgar Chadwick, the captain and Alf Milward all from the clubs only previous final, which they lost in 1893.

The game began at a cracking pace and it was a miracle that both sets of players were able to maintain it for the entire ninety minutes in a game that could easily have ended six each.

The only let up in the first quarter of an hour came when both trainers were called upon to render assistance after a nasty looking collision that left a player from each side flat out but when the action resumed it was Villa who struck first blood. Charlie Athersmith struck a pass wide to the unmarked John Devey whose inch perfect cross was met with one touch by John Campbell before squeezing a strong right footed shot past Bob Menham who seemed decieved by the swerve of the shot. It was a goal in keeping with the pace of the game as Everton had been caught completely cold by the speed of the move. Most other clubs would have felt the fates to be against them even at this early stage but Everton had a reputation for never knowing when they were beaten and their response was to simply up the tempo even further. In the twenty-third minute the Merseysiders, playing in what was then their away kit of blue squared things with almost a carbon copy of Villa’s effort. This time it was Andy Hartley who provided a defence splitting pass for John Bell to take in his stride before firing past the advancing Villa keeper, Jimmy Whitehouse. One thing Villa had been warned to avoid was giving away cheap free kicks close to goal as Everton had the David Beckham of the era in Richard Boyle but with the momentum for the moment with the Toffeemen, Boyle got his chance when Jimmy Cowan gave away a free kick twenty yards out. Jimmy Whitehouse made no attempt to save the kick, he couldn’t, it was struck so well he never saw the ball until it nestled in the net to give Everton the lead. Now though the game changed again as Villa took up the mantle. They were determined not to give Everton a half time advantage. Bob Menham now had his best spell of the game though and for a brief time it looked like Everton’s luck would hold as Menham made a Jim Montgomeryesque double save which left Villa players looking to referee John Lewis for the faint possibility of a goal. Lewis called it right that Menham had kept the ball out but in the thirty-fifth minute Menham was caught flat footed when Jimmy Crabtree opted to pass to Freddy Wheldon instead of having a shot himself. Wheldon flashed in the shot first time before anyone could react to level matters again. Villa enjoyed the better of it in the final ten minutes of the half and a minute before the interval John Reynolds picked up a poorly cleared corner and swept in a perfect cross for Jimmy Crabtree to head past the stranded Menham to put Villa back in front.

There was no let up in the second half either but it wasn’t for the want of trying that there were no more goals. Jimmy Whitehouse was like a man possessed in the Villa goal, making breath taking saves from Stewart and Holt while at the other end Menham had the woodwork to thank as John Reynold’s looping header bounced off the bar, while Charlie Athersmith’s thunderous shot smashed back off a post. Two minutes from time John Bell and Edgar Chadwick came tantalisingly close to forcing extra time as Bell rounded Whitehouse but finding his own angle too tight, opted to square the ball back to Chadwick who tamely fired wide of an open goal under pressure from three Villa defenders. Everton knew that their best and last chance had gone and all twenty-two players were virtually out on their feet when the final whistle blew.

What the Villa players didn’t know as John Devey led them up to collect the cup was that Derby had gone down at Bury meaning that Villa had simultaneously been crowned league champions. There was plenty of consolation for Everton as John Bell was named man of the match for his display in defeat but the club officials were more critical. In 1893 they had blamed their keeper Richard Williams for losing a very winable final against Wolves. This time, despite having been the match of the best side in the land in every aspect except goals, the goalkeeper Bob Menham was made the scapegoat for their defeat. It was a sour end to their part in a final which was still regarded as the best ever, fifty years later. Villa meanwhile were a little more careful with the cup this time round, having had it stolen from them two years earlier. The trophy spent the most part of the next ten months locked away from public view in a local bank. It had good company in the shape of the league trophy as Villa achieved a feat which many believed would never be repeated. It took sixty four years for another team to emulate them and only one of their 1897 side, Albert Evans, survived to see Tottenham do it.

THE TEAMS

VILLA: Jimmy Whitehouse; Howard Spencer, John Reynolds, Albert Evans, James Cowan, Jimmy Crabtree, Charlie Athersmith, John Devey {Captain}, John Campbell, Freddy Wheldon, John Cowan.
Scorers: John Campbell{18}, Freddy Wheldon{35}, Jimmy Crabtree{44}.

EVERTON: Robert Menham; P Meechan, David Storrier, Richard Boyle, Johnny Holt, Billy Stewart, Jack Taylor, John Bell, Andrew Hartley, Edgar

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